Change is normal for most NFL teams this time of year. Roster turnover is normal, but for a team with a new head coach, the word “change” doesn’t even do it justice in describing differences in training camp.
Dan Quinn is now in charge of the Atlanta Falcons. Mike Smith is gone. And yes, it’s different. My time in Flowery Branch on Wednesday included seeing some obvious changes that a new head coach would bring to the table.
Quinn had loud music playing throughout the practice, and believe me, it wasn’t Air Supply blasting on the speakers. The practices were fast-paced and energetic, with Quinn even in the middle of things. You could tell he was having fun, even though as a head coach that’s the last thing he’d probably want to admit.
But there is a lot of work to do. The Falcons have a ton of questions, some that need to be answered before the first week of the regular season. The preseason starts Friday, and that’s when the process really begins.
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While there are more new faces on the defense and perhaps more questions, as well, the offense has some significant issues. The hamstring injuries to running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman are cause for serious concern. The hope is they’ll both only be out for a couple of weeks, at the most. But as they need snaps to try and win the job, both are needed back as soon as possible.
The revolving door on the offensive line must be slowed down, and the Falcons are trying to cross-train many linemen to guard against a third straight year of rotating players at the five spots. Most of the misery of the past two seasons can be tied to the injuries on the offensive line, so they must find some consistency at some point.
Will the two new tight ends show they can be productive? Jacob Tamme and Tony Moeaki join Levine Toilolo to try and at least complement the explosive receivers. The pecking order of the receivers will be determined this month. We know Julio Jones is first and the veteran Roddy White is still second, but between Leonard Hankerson, Justin Hardy and Devin Hester, who is next?
The defense, however, will be the key. The Falcons haven’t been good on defense in what seems like forever. Quinn, who was the defensive coordinator in Seattle with the great Seahawks defenses, is trying to find where everyone fits. He’s being creative and is not locking players into certain and expected spots.
The secondary, which was a concern with this team going into camp, actually looks better. Rookie Jalen Collins has had some rough days at camp, but he is a rookie. That happens. Collins is the huge cornerback who Quinn likes, so you wonder how much better he’ll be in a few months. The man Collins is trying to replace, Robert Alford, is healthy and has had a good camp so far.
Desmond Trufant has a chance to be a special player for this team. He might be taking over for the oft-injured William Moore as the leader of the secondary. If there is more pressure from the guys up front, the secondary could actually be improved this season.
And yes, those seven spots up front must be better. There are so many names, so many spots that it’s almost numbing to try and figure who will be where. But second-year player Ra’Sheded Hageman and rookie Vic Beasley are exciting players who could make this defense better.
It’s hard to tell from watching one practice how much better a team that was 6-10 last year might be this season. But the talent level for Quinn is better. The dominos likely have to fall perfectly in place for the Falcons to turn it around quickly, but in a weak division anything is possible.
Could the Falcons be better? Yes. Much better? Well, the jury is still out. But so far, Atlanta looks like a team trending upward.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org